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Durham University

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Staff Profile

Dr Jonathan Darling

Associate Professor in the Department of Geography
Telephone: +44 (0) 191 33 41933
Fax: +44 (0) 191 33 41801
Room number: 406

Contact Dr Jonathan Darling (email at

Biography and Research Interests

I am an urban and political geographer interested in the politics and ethics of migration and its relationship with the urban. I joined the Department of Geography in 2018 following a Senior Lectureship at the University of Manchester. Prior to this, I worked at the University of St Andrews as a Teaching Fellow in Geography following a BA, MA and PhD in Geography from Durham University. I occasionally tweet at: 

I have a broad range of interests, primarily orientated around the politics of asylum and refuge, including; geographies of responsibility and ethics; mobilities and migration; geographies of encounter; post-politics and the political; urban ethnography; affect and emotion; and social and political theory. My research interests are orientated around four main areas;

The urbanisation of asylum: My work has been underpinned by a desire to understand how cities are understood by those seeking asylum, and how they may shape different forms of response to forced migration. In particular, I have sought to theorise the urban as both a means to police, manage, and regulate the lives of refugees, and simultaneously as a complex social formation through which political acts, claims, and subjectivities are forged. 

Sanctuary and activist citizenship: I have a longstanding interest in examining the emergence, development, and tactics of sanctuary movements in different national contexts. To this end, I have undertaken work with the UK City of Sanctuary movement, and am increasingly interested in exploring the links between sanctuary politics and practice orientated theories of citizenship centred on acts, activisms, and insurgencies. 

Moral urbanism, responsibility and spaces of care: Underpinning my work on urban asylum, is an interest in the geographies of ethics, responsibility and care. In this field, I have explored spaces of care such as drop-in centres, theories of generosity and the ethics of care, the responsibilities of relational thinking, and understandings of moral urbanism – the ways in which cities may attach themselves to particular claims to moral virtue. 

Spaces of politics, post-politics, and depoliticisation: My recent work has been influenced by debates over the nature of the political and how this is framed in social and political theory. I have been interested in work from across the social and political sciences that expands an understanding of politicisation and depoliticisation beyond a narrow ‘post-political’ lens. In my current work, I have been interested in exploring the connections between such debates and the governance of forced migration, most notably through considering the effects of neoliberalisation, privatisation, and austerity urbanism on asylum seekers and refugees. 

These interests have cohered into two ongoing research projects; 

Producing urban asylum (ESRC Future Research Leader's Grant 2012-2015): This study investigated the politics of urban asylum in contemporary Britain at a time of increasing pressure on asylum services and provision. In 2009, the UK Border Agency announced moves to increase the private provision of dispersal accommodation for asylum seekers and to halt contracts with local authorities. Such a move effectively ended the provision of public housing to asylum seekers in a number of British cities. This research represents the first endeavour to examine the impacts of this policy shift. The project explored how four urban authorities responded to these changes and how subsequent negotiations between urban authorities, the UK Border Agency, private accommodation providers and asylum support groups affect the lives of those seeking sanctuary. The multi-sited research is centred upon four cities with significant dispersal numbers; Birmingham, Cardiff, Glasgow and Sunderland. In each city a multi-method approach involved archival and media research, interviews with key figures in the refugee sector and local authorities, focus groups with asylum seekers and observation of asylum campaigns. 

#Refugeeswelcome in parks: wellbeing and inclusion in public open space (AHCR connected communities, 2017-2018): This project investigates the positive outcomes for wellbeing and inclusion of engaging with urban public space for marginalised groups in the context of cities experiencing increasing new arrivals of refugees, with a specific focus on the mental health of refugees and the integration process at the local scale. Though the refugee experience is complex and varied, circumstances of under-employment, poor living conditions, limited social opportunities and mental health pressures are commonly reported. In this context, this project examines the ways in which urban public spaces can be conceived as a resource for people at a time of establishing footholds in new environments and forging new belongings and place attachments. The research is coordinated by Clare Rishbeth (University of Sheffield), and in partnership with The Young Foundation and Minor, a Berlin based refugee support organisation.



Edited book

Chapter in book

  • Darling, J. (2020). Hosting the displaced: from sanctuary cities to hospitable homes. In The Handbook of Displacement. Adey, P. Bowstead, J. Brickell, K. Desai, V. Dolton, M. Pinkerton, A. & Siddiqi, A. Palgrave MacMillan.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2020). Out-sourcing refuge: distance, deferral, and immunity in the urban governance of refugees. In Displacement: Global Conversations on Refuge. Pasquetti, Silvia & Sanyal, Romola Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2019). ‘Another politics of the city’ Urban practices of refuge, advocacy and activism. In Refugee Imaginaries: Research Across the Humanities. Cox, Emma, Durrant, Sam, Farrier, David, Stonebridge, Lyndsey & Wooley, Agnes University of Edinburgh Press.
  • Darling, Jonathan & Bauder, Harald (2019). Introduction: rescaling migration, citizenship, and rights. In Sanctuary Cities and Urban Struggles: Rescaling Migration, Citizenship, and Rights. Darling, Jonathan & Bauder, Harald University of Manchester Press.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2019). Sanctuary, presence, and the politics of urbanism. In Sanctuary Cities and Urban Struggles: Rescaling Migration, Citizenship, and Rights. Darling, Jonathan & Bauder, Harald Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2017). Refugees. In International Encyclopedia of Geography: People, the Earth, Environment and Technology. 1.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2016). Defying the demand to 'go home': from human rights cities to the urbanisation of human rights. In Global Urban Justice: The Rise of Human Rights Cities. Oomen, Barbara, Davis, Martha & Grigolo, Michele Cambridge University Press. 121-138.
  • Wilson, Helen F. & Darling, Jonathan (2016). The possibilities of encounter. In Encountering the City: Urban Encounters from Accra to New York. Wilson, Helen F. & Darling, Jonathan Abingdon, Oxon: Routledge. 1-24.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2015). What role might cities play in UK asylum policy? In On Devo. Waddington, Alex Manchester University Press. 16-18.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2014). Welcome to Sheffield: the less-than-violent geographies of urban asylum. In Geographies of Peace. McConnell, Fiona, Megoran, Nick & Williams, Philippa IB Tauris. 229-249.
  • Darling, Jonathan & Squire, Vicki (2013). Everyday enactments of sanctuary: the UK City of Sanctuary movement. In Sanctuary Practices in International Perspectives. Lippert, Randy & Rehaag, Sean Routledge. 191-204.
  • Darling, Jonathan (2010). Just being there.: Ethics, experimentation, and the cultivation of care. In Taking-Place: Non-representational theories and geography. Anderson, Ben & Harrison, Paul Ashgate. 241-260.

Journal Article

Book review

Media Contacts

Available for media contact about:

  • Citizenship, state and governance: Refugees, asylum policy, and the impacts of migration
  • Policy and politics: Refugees, asylum policy, and the impacts of migration
  • Security, territory and boundaries: Refugees, asylum policy, and the impacts of migration
  • Social and ethical inequality: Refugees, asylum policy, and the impacts of migration


Selected Grants

  • 2021: Solidarity in Diversity (£216594.28 from Interreg (ERDF) Europe)
  • 2019: Precarious housing in Europe. Pushing for innovation in higher education (£48088.47 from Interreg (ERDF) Europe)